Helen Boden -Poems


Mast, slender against the horizontals’ sway,
beacon to the valley dweller, textile worker,
homing student, her. See both coasts
from the top on a clear day. 
Old folks say
the direction of the weather overhead
– or maybe it’s the colour of the clouds –
can predict election winners.
Or Derby winners. Either way, it signals more
than gameshows, chat shows, local news.


That old man facing the road
is your dad
if he’d lived
until they took his licence away.

He’s looking across the perimeter fence
at the back of what was Hartley Bros.
He doesn’t know its new name
is neoned on the front.

That sci-fi light over the slip road –
could be the end
of the last performance
of Gotterdammerung
could be after losing
your virginity on Greenfield Way
at the 36 stop
after the last bus left


Married late
a mother later
young for her age
even at eighty
she wore Calvin Klein’s ‘Eternity’
as all other perfumes were too acidic
or was it her skin that was too acidic for the perfumes?
Whatever, she believed this with the conviction
with which she believed coffee smelt nicer than it tasted
and snowdrops were brave.

We’d go to Leeds when I was down
to get Vitamin E cream from the Body Shop
(after Ulay became Olay and she stopped using it)
Max Factor and Lancôme makeup
from House of Fraser or Boots
(she had a local Boots
but they didn’t stock Max Factor
and the range of Lancôme in Leeds was better).
Then we’d sample perfume sprays
before lunch with white wine in Pizza Express.

Once (she’d be in her seventies),
she was accosted
by a young concession counter rep
– heavily made up
styled to the minute –
while I lurked at a distance.
Not made in her image.
‘This is the last in the trilogy of Eternities’
the saleswoman deadpanned as she vaporised.
I savoured the impossibility
behind Yes St Laurent or Chanel.
Then we went for our pizza.

On a whim I kept
her final bottle of Eternity
in its white CK sepulchre
and took it back down
and sprayed it around
her memorial stone
on the cusp of spring
when emerging blossom
graced the last of the daffs.


Run back down the ginnel
between Uncle Leonard’s fence
and the Addymans’ wall
on grass turned to mud.
Wasn’t it paved?
It always rained.

It was paved.
Remember – you fell?

It leaned-to, didn’t it?
Yet, remember running
right round the back.
Maybe that’s where the grass was.
And the rhubarb plot.

There’s corrugated iron
like on the annex roof at school
but it was always called the ‘wood hut’
and didn’t have a lock
– though his tools
must’ve been worth a bob or two.

Interior’s much clearer
but you can’t go back to check.
Tidy like their houses.
A bob for a job,
A slap for your cheek.
Work-ethic implements
of a pre-war blacksmith
in what never became
his pottering shed.

Put a woodblock in the vice
– turn it, tighten it –
but, like with the school Meccano set,
you don’t know what to do next
so you just undo it again.

Unlock your shed
on a fifties scheme.
Sit in its doorway
with poetry mags
chocolate éclair
filled with foraged brambles
Yunnen in enamel cup.
Behind, their old ironing board
is both potting table
and bicycle rack.
You’ve striped the walls:
Forget-me-not and Seagrass.
Whichever way you colour it
in one hand’s a Seamus digging-pen
but you had to give up Grandpa Booth’s
wooden-handled tools.
The spade you till this garden with
was bought from B&Q.

About the contributor

Helen Boden is a Yorkshire-born poet, Edinburgh-based writer, educator and editor, with poems in magazines and anthologies including New Writing Scotland, Mslexia, Lighthouse and Butcher’s Dog. She also collaborates with visual artists to make responsive poems and place-specific text.

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